By Renford Reese, PhD
I watched the NFL’s National Football Conference Championship post-game interview with Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Fox News’ Erin Andrews with great interest.
Sherman, the NFL’s best cornerback, is known as a “Smacktalk Poet.” His much-talked-about interview rant with Andrews, which denigrated San Francisco 49er wide-receiver Michael Crabtree, was the impetus for a fire storm of criticism directed toward Sherman — and much of this criticism was race-based.
When Erin Andrews was asked about Sherman’s rant, she responded, “You expect these guys to play like maniacs and animals for 60 minutes and then 90 seconds after he makes a career-defining, game-changing play, I’m gonna be mad because he’s not giving me a cliché answer…No you don’t. That was awesome. That was so awesome. And I loved it.”
Many labeled Sherman a thug and characterized him with the usual adjectives reserved for young black men in the United States.
But Sherman is not a stereotype. He is an enigma, an iconoclast. He graduated second in his class at Manuel Dominguez High School in Compton with a 4.2 grade point average and went on to graduate with a degree in communications from Stanford. His credentials do not match those of a thug.
When he spoke to “Inside NFL’s” Lee Jenkins about Stanford and stereotypes, he stated, “I was strange because I went to class, did the work, read the books and was still pretty good at sports. If you’re like me, people think you’re weird. They pull you in different directions. But those people aren’t going where you’re going.
“I know the jock stereotype — cool guy, walking around with your friends, not caring about school, not caring about anything. I hate that stereotype. I want to destroy it. I want to kill it.”
Sherman combines charisma, wit, and a braggadocios persona with something else. And, it seems to be that “something else” that intrigues some and repulses others.
Tens of thousands of young black men perform in college and professional sports annually. Fans energetically support and, in some cases, obsess over their favorite black players — wearing their jerseys to games and consistently singing their praises.
However, there is a behavioral code for these warriors. And anytime, they do not adhere to this behavioral code they are immediately labeled thugs, irrespective of their credentials. These knee-jerk reactions are simplistic and counterproductive.
Sherman was aware of the irony that many of the racially charged responses to his rant came on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
We should be at a point in America in which we can critique a person’s behavior without infusing a racial dimension to it.
If Sherman was crass call him crass, if he was arrogant call him arrogant, if his statements lacked sportsmanship, say they lacked sportsmanship. But, the summation of all these descriptions does not equate to blackness.
Minutes before Sherman made his game-saving play, white Seattle Seahawks fans threw objects on the field at an injured 49er player. Does this behavior equate to whiteness?
Like Sherman, at some point, we all get emotional, angry, challenged, and hyped up. And these emotions are manifested in a myriad of ways that do not reflect our skin hue.
Consequently, we should resist racial labeling, because stereotypes oversimplify human behavior.
Renford Reese, Ph.D. is a political science professor at Cal Poly Pomona. He is the author of five books and the founder/director of the Prison Education Project: www.PrisonEducationProject.org